15. Israel Folau (Waratahs)
I suspect most Australians are just waiting for this code hopper to shine. Folau has slipped into rugby union rather seamlessly and without really putting a foot wrong. He is superb under the hgh ball and growing in confidence with ball in hand, surprisingly strong for his size. His defence hasn’t really been tested, but bar a few flying misses in his first match, he has managed to successfully pull down his targets. Also deserving a mention are Tom Marshall and Robbie Coleman for the very respectable performances they’ve delivered while filling in some big shoes.
14. Willie le Roux (Cheetahs)
If he didn’t have a number on his back, you wouldn’t know where he was supposed to play as he was absolutely everywhere on the park. When he doesn’t create the opportunities, he finishes them off – this time refusing to be upstaged by one of the many internationals vying for the 14 jersey. In my opinion this livewire is probably the most energetic and opportunistic player in the tournament.
13. Richard Kahui (Chiefs)
Four shoulder reconstructions later and only a couple of hours back on the field, the Chiefs midfielder seems gearing himself up to compete for an All Black jumper. This guy gives 110% in everything he does, whether running at the line, making a tackle or passing, every decision he makes is calculated and executed with style. I would like to see him in combination with Tim Nanai-Williams – it might not work, but just think if it does. Celebrating his 100th cap in style, Adam Ashley-Cooper also merits a mention, for his try made the difference in the end.
12. Robert Ebersohn (Cheetahs)
Things are going well for the Cheetahs and no-one stole the limelight more than their centres. Robert Ebersohn is combining his sevens skills very well with the necessities of the fifteen man game, becoming an increasing threat when his free spirited team launches their attack as well as being solid on defense.
11. Hosea Gear (Highlanders)
I want to say that the Highlanders are hopeless and useless and every other bad word I can think of, but they really aren’t. They’re just not winning, it is the little finishing touches that are costing them. The blame game can’t be long off and if there’s one individual that will rise above the rest, it is Hosea Gear. Putting your name on the map as a winger in New Zealand is hard enough with the abundance of runners they produce, doing so in a losing side really takes someone with exceptional talent.
10. Tyler Bleyendaal (Crusaders)
It is only my opinion, but apart from largely losing to themselves, I think the Stormers overestimated the effect Dan Carter’s absence would have on the Crusaders ability to dominate the phases. The young Bleyendaal is no household name and only beginning to carve out a reputation for himself, but he slots his shots at goal, distributes the ball beautifully and dictates the tactical game like an experienced general.
9. Will Genia (Reds)
Without a doubt the life force behind the Reds’ new-found energy. Genia runs the show and as he gets more comfortable after returning from injury, the entire side seems to become more buoyant. There is no substitute for his class and skill, a true rugby mind if ever there was one.
8. Jake Schatz (Reds)
He has spent a lot of time on the bench during the days of Scott Higginbotham, but it seems this eighth man has now claimed his rightful spot in the Reds team. Whether his team is attacking or defending, Schatz is there to clear the ruck or steal the ball.
7. Matt Todd (Crusaders)
If rugby lovers, especially those in New Zealand, were worried about a worthy replacement for the legendary Richie McCaw, they can now rest assured. Look no further than the tireless workhorse currently filling his shoes for the Crusaders. Matt Todd is taking full advantage of McCaw’s sabbatical in an almost “anything you can do, I can do better” fashion. Need I say more, he’s the next McCaw.
6. Brad Shields (Hurricanes)
Catch All Black selectors’ eye – done. Play your heart out for that Kiwi jumper – in process. Shield caught their attention last year and by delivering more steadfast performances this season, running the ball hard and firmly standing his ground on defense, a call up to the international squad can’t be far off.
5. Sam Whitelock (Crusaders)
Hit the ground running in their home-away-from-home game against the Stormers at Newlands. He took more line-outs on the Stormers’ throw than his own team as well as making a nuisance of himself both in attack and defense. This All Black front runner effortlessly replaced his opponent and Team of the Week predecessor Andries Bekker.
4. Luke Romano (Crusaders)
Even though Steven Sykes and Brad Thorn worked really hard under the radar, I felt that Luke Romano’s contributions were vital in the Crusaders’ victory over the Stormers. It doesn’t take only one man to disrupt a perfectly functioning line-out, but a build-up of pressure by both second-rowers. On top of disturbing the usually organised Stormers set-pieces, Romano played a big part in wearing the Stormers down with his tenacious tackling.
3. Ben Tameifuna (Chiefs)
There seems to be no shortage of stampeding front-rowers in Waikato. This titanic tighthead prop has a lot of sense about him as well as being astonishingly mobile for his mammoth size. Not only is he like a brick wall on defense, when he charges the line, he’s as hard to stop as a steam train.
2. Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs)
One of the best captains in word rugby if you ask me. He has been gradually building his form this season and making himself more and more noticeable with each game. It is imperative for a team to win their own line-outs, and you don’t get more dependable than Strauss. There are a host of good hookers in this competition, and one guy that has truly been rock solid for his team is Stephen Moore.
1.Toby Smith (Chiefs)
It almost came down to a coin flip between Ben Franks and Benn Robinson for their great work with ball in hand, but in the end I decided to hand the honours to yet another Chiefs front-rower. Smith might not have been as visible in open play; not carrying the ball as often or effectively as the two Bens, but his contributions in defense was invaluable for his team’s too close for comfort win over the Blues.
by Jackie Smit